Letter Photography - F is for Funny


It had been a hectic morning. Driving from Hermanus in typical Cape Town winter weather, crossing the Sir Lowry’s Pass with False Bay stretching out at your feet, we were looking forward to what would turn out to be one of my favourite photo days ever. This meant leaving well before my body was ready to face the clinging, wet, freezing atmosphere sometime before dawn, tackling a curving, slippery road and battling through the roughest patch of early morning traffic i've experienced in my life.

Even though the body protests at times like these, what gets you out of your comfortable cocoon is all in the mind. The first question to answer is this: “Why are you doing this?” In other words, what’s your purpose? The second question inevitably follows after the day has come to an end: “Was it worth it?” The answers to these questions came easy, and the memories grafted into my mind on this day will remain with me forever.

Let’s start somewhere: We exited the N2 at Baden Powell Road. The traffic – both pedestrian and vehicular – were overwhelming on a very narrow road with commuters from Khayelitsha. After a while, we rounded a bend and there it was: the Atlantic Ocean on our left and one of the most densely populated patches of land in South Africa on our right. The traffic on this road seemed like two chains being tugged in opposite directions. i abandoned my co-pilot responsibilities and rested my head against the window, taking in the wide, flat beaches. Seaweed and seagulls took turns breaking the monotony and promised something extraordinary to come. An expectation started growing in my mind, an expectation beyond finding letter photos, as if being summoned to an extraordinary place for an ordinary, quiet moment.

We passed through some of the most Cape Town-y seaside suburbs on our way to Cape Point. Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town all beckoned us to stop and find a cozy corner to warm up, but we had our sights set on the gnarly rock-finger that stretched out towards the Western border of False Bay. Although the rain had abated by this time, it still seemed to be heading towards an unpleasant day in the Fairest Cape. But bad weather creates such a wonderful moody space, and it always seems to act like a sponge for my thoughts, clearing away every distraction and clarifying the most important issues in my mind.

At the visitor centre we found some interesting whale skeletons. Click, click and off we went on a short hiking trail. Well, it’s short if it’s the only thing you’ll be doing for the day, and we had a list to complete, so we had to cut it short. Next stop was Cape Point, and we hopped on the funicular to the lighthouse. It was not raining, but the icy wind and misty clouds did its best to force us indoors. This is when question 1 becomes relevant again. When my body was calling out for relief from the elements, my mind cheered me on with this thought: “This is great light for photos!” So we climbed about 832,514,228,764,498 steps to the lighthouse and snapped away. That’s how many steps my body counted, as my mind was too busy focusing on the job at hand.

We took in the lighthouse, the buildings below it and the footpath further down. Although the wind gusted at a steady pace, the clouds would shift constantly. Now the lighthouse would be visible, and then it would be obscured from view by a misty cover. We enjoyed the view across the bay, with Simon’s Town just around the corner. Our mission complete, we returned to the car, and drove to the two crosses commemorating ancient seafarers. Just as we were heading for the exit, we came across the most peculiar sight: an ostrich quietly pecking away in the fynbos right next to the beach! Can you believe that? We almost couldn’t, and if we hadn’t taken a few quick shots, we would probably doubt our own eyes. But there it was, serenely going from one plant to the next to find the ultimate delicacy for the day. Sometimes the wonders in life is as simple is this: finding an ostrich on the beach.

Our next stop was the penguins of Simon’s Town. Here the ocean is painted the most beautiful hue of turquoise, and big boulders of white and grey lie in the shallow waters by the beach. i could spend a whole day holiday just staring at the waters of Simon’s Town.

This is where we encountered the letter F as well as many others. Watching penguins for a while guarantees to clear away even more cobwebs from your mind. Their waddling figures dressed meticulously in tuxedos simply confirms one of my philosophies: Just because you’re dressed to the nines doesn’t mean you have to be stiff. Anyone can combine elegance and clumsiness. Everyone can embrace both the serious parts of life and humour.

Penguins can teach us many other lessons as well: Each one of of us is a bit different from the others, but still we are very much the same. Some of us will need to hunt for fish while others are taking a rest, but sooner or later all of us will have to hunt AND fish.

These two fellows (or damsels) in the photo were busy “titivating” when i caught them in action. Maybe they had a lunch with important clients, or they could be preparing for their dates that night. Either way, they were determined to put their best feet forward for some reason. Animals and birds are challenging enough to capture for a conventional photo, but when you’re looking for a letter, the difficulty level increases and your chances of getting what you were looking for decreases. i came to Simon’s Town to get an “I” from the penguins, but the best letter we got was this “F.” Isn’t it wonderful to start out with a goal in mind and find something different but more useful in its place? Instead of getting discouraged by not finding what we’re looking for, maybe once in a while we should appreciate what we found instead.

To answer question 2 ("Was it worth it?") Absolutely, definitely, yes.

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